Monday, December 7, 2015

[Yasmin_discussions] Transformative and Critical Making

From Matt Ratto on critical thinking and physical making:

Over the last few years, the long-standing 'firewall' between critical thinking
and physical making has been toppling, in no small part due to scholars '
and practitioners in design, the digital humanities, artistic
practice, engineering,
and other areas who have developed specific modes of material/conceptual
engagement. While most critical work often remains focused on linguistic
processes and outputs, "critical making" (broadly construed) is more and
more finding a place within pedagogical and research-oriented contexts.
Obviously, this work ties into and participates to greater or lesser degrees
with the practices of enthusiast 'maker' communities, professional design
contexts, new forms of value-focused engineering pedagogies, and artistic

What connects the diversity of the communities involved and the values
espoused, is some interest in the 'critical', whether that means
in the old liberatory and Marxist Frankfurt School sense, reflective regarding
the environmental and social outcomes of modern industrial production, or
insight-generating related to other tropes and forms of material engagements.
My own particular interest has been methodological, working out to what
degree material engagements give us new modes for exploring the
entanglements of the material and the semiotic and the way power in society
relates to the specific forms these entanglements take. But I very much think
that the time is ripe for a more general conversation to be had regarding the
ways in which critical forms of making fit and do not fit into
standard institutional
and disciplinary contexts, whether those of engineering, art, design, or other
fields. In particular, it seems important to call attention to
contradictory value
assumptions associated with these contexts, including differing concepts of
instrumental logic, novelty, aesthetic sophistication, and the like.

Working in more substantive interdisciplinary ways requires closer attention
to the often naturalized ways in which we establish what counts as 'critical'.
My hope is that the Yasmin conversation can start such a conversation. As
a small contribution to this, here is a link to a short piece I
published on Medium:


Matt Ratto is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the
University of Toronto and directs the Semaphore Research cluster on
Inclusive Design, Mobile and Pervasive Computing and, as part of Semaphore,
the Critical Making lab. His work explores the intersections between digital
technologies and the human life world, with a particular focus on new
developments that trouble the divide between online and offline modes of
production. His research also addresses pervasive and ubiquitous technologies
including wearable computing and the Internet of Things. He coined the term
'critical making" in 2007 to describe work that combines humanities insights
and engineering practices, and has published extensively on this concept.
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